DevOps and the future of system administrators

I don’t know what it’s like where you are, but here at Schuberg Philis more and more of us are DevOps-ing, Chef-ing and Git-ing the cloud way of working. Even though, like us, you might not see direct results porting mostly legacy code, the end result will be staggering. Maybe not for customer 1 or 2, but definitely for the builds in 2014. Some of you still might haven’t found the right cause to try this way of working, the truth of the matter is that, sooner or later, it’s coming all our ways.

There are too many convincing reasons for me that DevOps is here to stay: it’s faster, more flexible, less risky – and it makes it possible to cut costs by eliminating the system administrator role (and the CIO too). So if you’re a systems administrator (or a CIO), prepare yourself for the next step, before someone else does it for you.

What should you do? First of all, don’t fight it and don’t treat it as a bit of industry buzz that will blow over. You can’t afford to, because one day soon you’regoing to be on pager duty and find yourself confronted with a DevOps environment. And what are you going to do then? The new way of designing and deploying environments is here to stay. The learning curve is short yet very steep (f-ing vertical perhaps) but the results are worth it.

Get with the program

You know how fast the pace of change is in the IT industry. You know how quickly the cloud, SaaS, PaaS and other developments have gone from shiny new toys to mainstream offering – and how they are now cannibalizing the on-premise software model. What makes you think it won’t affect (read: eliminate) your job? I believe that the adoption of DevOps is being driven by four “big hairy beasts”:
  1. The rise of agile development processes and methodologies;
  2. Demand by application and business unit stakeholders for more production releases;
  3. The wide availability of virtual and cloud infrastructure from internal and external providers;
  4. Increased usage of datacenter automation and configuration management tools.
Any one of those alone would be a threat to the old development-administration duopoly. But together they form a knockout blow. The transfer to DevOps makes it pretty easy for any reasonably competent generalist to do what once took a team of specialists.

In, out, or shake it all about?

So what are your options as a system administrator? First up, accept that the sysadmin role in it’s current shape is going to disappear. Some people will exit IT completely because of this. Some will find a more specialist niche within the industry. Some will freelance for multiple clients, replacing other sysadmin people who have specialized or quit. And some will, if they can, reinvent themselves as, let’s call them “system masters” – (part sysadmin, part CIO, replacing both). These people will find the best mix of in-house and hosted solutions to meet the business’s needs. Managing data flows rather than infrastructure.

In every case, the future scenario involves big changes. At the same time, one thing is clear: if you’re a systems administrator and you want to continue doing something that looks vaguely like what you do today, you need to be into DevOps. Future IT solutions are going to be dynamic situations driven by responses rather than pre-determined conditions. And that requires a systems master, not a systems administrator. Enjoy the ride.



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